Brought to you by the syllable "cor"

“Excoriate” brings to mind the mental image of someone being hollered at severely or verbally shamed.  But it’s not that different from “exfoliate” (to strip off the leaves–think of foliage, folio, portfolio).  Literally, to excoriate someone is to strip off his/her skin.  “Cura” in Spanish is leather.  I can’t think of other cor- or cur- cognates that mean “skin.”  When I was a dramatic sixteen-year-old overly worried about something, I would say to myself, “My skin is falling off my bones.”  And now, half a lifetime later, I realize that what I was doing was excoriating myself.

If cor- means “skin,” then cord-or card-  means “heart.”  There’s cardiologist, echocardiogram, Sursum Corda.  Sursum Corda was the name of a house in Larchmont, NY, about 20 miles from where I grew up.  I don’t know whether the house is extant.  The name probably is not.  It’s the name that Marie and Jimmy Killillea gave their house, and you can read about their family in Karen and With Love From Karen, two wonderful memoirs set in the 1940s and 1950s when they were a pre-Vatican II Catholic family with tremendous love and a little girl who worked bravely to overcome the limitations of cerebral palsy.  Anyway, Sursum Corda means “Lift up your heart.”

“Cordial,” as a drink, was probably originally thought of as a tonic for the heart.  “Cordial” as an adjective really does not mean “heartfelt” anymore.  It carries a connotation of politeness, a genial approach, but not a warm or loving approach.

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